Friday, January 16, 2015

Market Week Wrap-up Weekly Market Update: Swiss Mess
Fri, 16 Jan 2015 16:08 PM EST

The Swiss National Bank roiled global markets this week by unceremoniously removing the 1.2000 floor put under the EUR/CHF cross back in 2011, prompting the franc to gain as much as 35% versus the euro on Thursday. Social media christened the move "Francogeddon" and the CEO of Swatch called it a tsunami. SNB Chief Jordan said his strategy was to "take markets by surprise," and he succeeded. The SNB move was widely taken as another confirmation that the ECB will move on its QE program next week. Just 24-hours earlier the EU's highest court gave the ECB a green light to proceed with QE, even as December euro zone CPI data showed most member states in negative inflation. Front-month WTI and Brent crude reached parity on Tuesday for the first time since the summer of 2013, as both February contracts traded below $46, but prices regained some ground later in the week. In the US, December inflation readings slipped lower, giving the doves on the Fed ammunition for their arguments that rate hikes can wait. Note that the yield on the 10-year UST has contracted nearly every session in January, and traded as low as 1.70% after the SNB's move on Thursday. Gold rallied pushing the futures back above the 200-day moving average for the first time since late summer. For the week, the DJIA fell 1.3%, the S&P500 dipped 1.2% and the Nasdaq lost 1.5%.

Eleven out of 18 euro zone nations reported negative inflation rates for the month of December, while total Eurozone CPI in December was -0.2% y/y, at its lowest rate since September 2009. The biggest downward impacts in the reports were from fuel prices, clearly demonstrating the impact of the oil meltdown. ECB's Coeure responded to the data by saying the euro zone is still not in deflation but the risk of deflation has worsened.

With inflation on a slippery slope, few doubt that the ECB QE is right around the corner (the SNB least of all). On Wednesday, the European Court of Justice handed down a non-binding opinion that the 2012 OMT bond-buying blueprint did not break EU law. Anti-QE German hawks had brought the case, hoping to forestall what they saw was bad policy. Not surprisingly, Bundesbank Chief Weidmann claimed the court's opinion also showed that there were legal limits on the ECB, citing commentary in the opinion that said the ECB's activities need safeguards to prevent violations of the prohibition against direct financing of governments. By Friday reports were suggesting Draghi presented Merkel and her staff a plan for QE that they could live with which will be centered on national central banks purchasing their own countries bonds.

US rates saw a wild week of trading as events in Europe and Asia, softer US economic data along with sliding commodity prices kept downward pressure on inflation expectations. The 5-year forward breakeven rate fell to its lowest level since 1999 and the 5-year TIPS breakeven fell below 1.2% after surprise central bank moves overseas. The US 10-year yield plunged through the October low to trade as low as 1.70% at one point, down close to 30 basis points on the week. Short rates fell also, leading traders to bid up Fed fund futures contracts, pushing out rate hike expectations modestly towards Q3 2015.

The strength of the US holiday shopping season is still in doubt after disappointing retail sales data for December. The Advance Retail Sales reading on Wednesday was a worse than expected -0.9% m/m, and still disappointed after removing the volatile auto sales segment. Meanwhile, shares of Best Buy and Tiffany both fell hard, after the electronics retailer said holiday sales fell slightly y/y while the jeweler cut its FY15 forecast citing headwinds from the strong dollar.

The Q4 earnings reporting season kicked off with Alcoa's numbers on Monday afternoon. Alcoa's earnings were better than expected on decent automotive demand, higher aluminum prices and lower energy costs, although its FY15 global aluminum demand growth forecast was in line with FY14's +7% y/y estimate, and it warned of a possible decline in commercial transport production in FY15.

JP Morgan, Bank of America, and Citibank all missed expectations and saw both earnings and revenue slip lower y/y in fourth-quarter earnings reports. Results from the three banks were weighed down by charges, civil penalties, and slumping revenue from trading. JP Morgan's fixed income trading revenue fell 23% y/y, the worst performance of the bunch. Goldman Sachs managed to beat earnings expectations, but its earnings and revenue also fell y/y, and its trading unit saw revenue drop 29% y/y in the quarter.

Copper prices slumped to a five year low midweek, with the front-month Comex contract dropping as low as $2.42 a pound. Traders blamed the slide on the World Bank citing the possibility of a "disorderly slowdown" in China as a key factor behind its decision to lower its global growth outlook for 2015 (China accounts for nearly 40% of demand for copper). The big mining names were hit hard, with Glencore down more than 14% and Anglo American off about 10% on Monday and Tuesday.

Data continues to reflect China's gradual economic slowdown, adding to the case for additional PBoC action in the first half of 2015. The China December trade surplus was in line with estimates, but imports fell again, evidence of soft domestic consumption. China's Customs Bureau also remarked that for the entire 2014, trade growth would be just 3.4% - well below the official 7.5% target - and weak conditions could persist in Q1. Foreign direct investment for all of 2014 rose just 1.7%, the slowest rate since 2012. Chinese banks issued 697.3 billion yuan of new loans in December, well below the 800 billion yuan forecasted. Perhaps the most telling was China's 2014 power consumption which is one of Premier Li' favored economic indicators, as its growth slowed to just 3.8% from 7.5% in 2013. The latest economic developments prompted Beijing to add to targeted stimulus, with the PBoC offering 50 billion yuan ($8.1B) in discounted credit to banks to support loans for farmers and small businesses.

In Japan, the Nikkei225 index hit a ten week low, falling 1.9% on the week as global risk aversion zapped yen-funded carry flows. The BOJ will meet next week and offer an update on its CPI and GDP projections, and some Japan-watchers are speculating that the inflation outlook might be revised lower due to plummeting oil prices. After an outsized policy response in October, new large measures are not likely to come any time soon, however there was some chatter that the BOJ would consider an extension to the program that provides low-interest loans for financial institutions to encourage even more lending.